Our Lady of the Pomegranate & the Body of Christ
It was New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, 7 o’clock in the morning, and as I walked into the quiet and golden chapel of the Carmelite nuns in Brooklyn and knelt down, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and peace - a familiarity hard to put into words. As I watched these people -- young and old, Caucasion, Hispanic, African American, Asian -- who I did not know, each come in and kneel down, it hit me in a new way -- we are family. We are one body. We span over countries, centuries, touching each place and culture throughout the world enlivened by the workings of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Baptism in our souls. Now I don’t think it is a coincidence that I came to appreciate this on the solemnity of the Mother of God.
One of my favorite paintings is Madonna of the Pomegranate by Sandro Botticelli. It is stunningly vibrant in its colors, incredibly transcendent in the rendering of the fabrics and light, and tender in the image of Our Lady as she cradles baby Jesus surrounded by angels with a pomegranate held both by the hands of Jesus and Mary simultaneously.
The Church With Many Seeds
The pomegranate has been used throughout the history of Christian art to symbolize the church because of its countless seeds united on the inside of one fruit. The church as brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and as one body is not simply an abstract idea talked about to make us be nice to each other; it is a reality-- a beautiful and heart-skipping mystery if we stopped to behold it. A mystery that changes how we see the saints as older and wiser siblings. A mystery that changes how we see the people in the pew next to us at Mass. We are all children of God, with the seed of grace being sown in our souls at our Baptism. Those seeds of grace bear fruit in our lives, in our relationships and in our prayer. It is what enables us to recognize the beauty of God in the world around us and it is what enables us to share it with others.
The Fruit of Contemplation
“God has given the soul the privilege of enjoying a continuous awareness of the realities of life. These realities may be described as the never-ending experiences man has with truth, beauty, and goodness. These experiences are so vital and moving that man has a constant urge to impart them to others. It is in this act of sharing them that he gives witness to the truth that he is indeed made in the image of God.” -George Ferguson
It is this contemplation of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God and the sharing of it that is the vocation of the Christian, and it is in a special way the vocation of the artist. This is what we see in the Litany of the saints. Each of them, through their individual lives, experienced the truth, beauty, and goodness of God and handed it onto the other members of the body.
This fertility of the church allows for the constant receiving of beauty from each other and giving it back to each other. The beauty of the church is its simultaneous diversity in its many parts and the unity of those parts in the one body of Christ.
The church is always fertile, bearing new fruit and planting new seeds, and at Litany we hope to create something that is the fruit of contemplation and invites others to contemplate those mysteries as well. For us, having the pomegranate as our symbol is a reminder of the diversity of the body of Christ and the beauty of the vocation that it is to create something that points to the dignity and beauty of that body.
Sandro Botticelli - Madonna of the Pomegranate, Tempera on Panel c. 1487